News & Politics

Should Women Be Fighting and Dying in Combat?

“Foreign Affairs” magazine says not letting women fight is gender stereotyping. That's not how decorated Vietnam vet Jim Webb saw it in “The Washingtonian.”

“We would go months without bathing, except when we could stand naked among each other . . .”

Those words are how Jim Webb, before he became Secretary of the Navy and then a United States Senator, started his 1979 Washingtonian magazine article “Women Can’t Fight.” The story caused Webb endless headaches as the Naval Academy graduate and former Marine Corps officer in Vietnam became more political and had to first face congressional hearings and then take part in them as the Democratic senator from Virginia.

Contrast what Webb wrote 33 years ago with this new look at the subject of women in combat, described below in an e-mail from Foreign Affairs magazine.

Dear Colleague:

“Today, 214,098 women serve in the U.S. military, representing 14.6 percent of total service members. Around 280,000 women have worn American uniforms in Afghanistan and Iraq, where 144 have died and over 600 have been injured.”

“Yet the U.S. military, at least officially, still bans women from serving in direct combat positions.”

So writes international relations expert Megan H. MacKenzie in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. According to MacKenzie, arguments against female soldiers are simply outdated.

“Proponents of the policy, who include Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), former chair of the House Armed Services Committee, and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), rely on three central arguments: thatwomen cannot meet the physical requirements necessary to fight, that they simply don’t belong in combat, and that their inclusion in fighting units would disrupt those units’ cohesion and battle readiness. Yet these arguments do not stand up to current data on women’s performance in combat or their impact on troop dynamics.”

“Banning women from combat does not ensure military effectiveness. It only perpetuates counterproductive gender stereotypes and biases. It is time for the U.S. military to get over its hang-ups and acknowledge women’s rightful place on the battlefield.”

Read “Let Women Fight.”

Jack Limpert, former editor of Washingtonian now a writer at large for the magazine, can be found at his blog,